It was romantic – all of that newness and independence and change. College wooed me like a new lover. It took me away from home, let me believe I was all grown up and ready for the world. It promised it would change me, take me in, shelter me from the cold and teach me things I could not learn anywhere else. I could stay with him, College, sleep over and eat every meal and stretch my legs on long walks between classes all the while holding his hand. College gave me a place, gave me a purpose, gave me an identity. College was my whole world for nine years. Shhh, shhh, he would whisper, don’t worry about the cost, I’m taking care of it for you (I didn’t hear him add at the end: for now). You just focus on your classes, your experiences, your growing, your changing, your hopes and your dreams. I listened. I believed. I figured that College wouldn’t lie to me – not smart and giving and loving and encouraging and good College. He wouldn’t disappoint me. He would take care of me.
I was wrong.
College spent one more great day with me, a great big rainy day. He and I wandered together through campus, remembering all of our good times there together, all of those things I learned with him, from him, through him. As the afternoon wore on, I left the familiar paths between buildings and classrooms and he stayed behind, repeating the same promise that he would see me later, he would be there for me that afternoon and for my future.
Back in my room, I put on my gown and I prepared for my new life with College by my side and the world waiting for me. I stood with all of the others, their own love affairs now changing and evolving into something else. I waited for College to greet me on the other side of the stage, behind his groomsmen-professors and bridesmaid-teachers, their faces plastered with pride and hope and knowing. They handed me my contract, my signed letter of completion, just like he said they would. But as I passed from one side of the stage to the other, moved the tassel so it hung on the side of completion, I searched the crowd, and I stretched onto the tips of my toes hoping to catch a glimpse of my companion. But he wasn’t there. I spun around to see if I had passed him, forgotten him, left him behind. But I had not. He had abandoned me. I waited for him to appear, trying to convince myself there had been some terrible mistake. My groom, my promise to take care of me for the rest of my life, cemented his feet behind me. He was not coming with me. He would no longer hold my hand. Wasn’t that what was promised to me when I accepted the invitation to be one of his? Wasn’t I signing up for a life that College would influence for the better? Didn’t he promise he would be there for me, to open doors, ensure financial security, and stand beside me with all of those lessons learned and experience gleaned? Wasn’t he my partner and my all-access pass to the world once I made it through all of those classes? College had left me on the other side alone. But not unburdened.
The final nail in the coffin of our relationship and my future arrived three months after my graduation and our separation. It was a shock at first, that letter, that bill, that closure between us – College and I. It was too cold, too unreal for College to treat me so formally, with such distance and business-like demeanor. Had I meant nothing to him? Was he not going to honor any of those promises of the world lying down at my feet once I stepped off of the podium degree-in-hand? The breakup would not have felt quite so harsh had College not left his mark on me in such a lasting way. I probably could have gotten over College with enough time and distance and chocolate. But no. College was crueler than I could have imagined.
I am pregnant now with the debt and the payment due upon receipt of my earned diploma. He has left me with the daily reminder of my choice to be with him, College, and without any assistance to help shoulder this weight, this charge, this offspring of my education. I am bloated with resentment towards him and his duping other young persons into his charm of a changed life after spending a few years with him. My feet are swollen from running around, trying to catch up, trying to work as much as I can to support this newly acquired debt, this money-child who will be mine for the next twenty years.
I often sit, here with my debt-child, and think about all of the things I cannot do because of it. It costs me close to six hundred dollars a month. A Lexus payment. Rent in a not-so-small apartment. Six weeks’ worth of the really good groceries – vegetables and soy milk and the natural peanut butter, not the off-brand Peter Pan kind with oil collecting at the top. Two pairs of Manholo Blahnik’s. Half of a plane ticket to Europe. A few fun hours at a blackjack table in Vegas. Fuck, a whole trip to Vegas.
This loan-baby is with me all the time, it never leaves my mind. It causes bags to creep beneath my eyes, tired from working two jobs to pay for its monthly hunger. It parches my throat as I plead yet again to the other debts in my life to understand, to be patient, to understand how hard it is, to be a single-parent of this needy and expensive money-child who is always hungry and does nothing to help me. You see, no doors have been opened once College had had his way with me. My energy was used up from the beginning trying to care for the hundred-thousand-dollar-infant that he inserted into my life and walked away. I have no time to do anything other than attend to it in the fastest way I know how. I cannot leave this debt-child alone to attempt to intern somewhere without the income to support it. Because even though in the long run, it might end up paying me more than I make now, I cannot escape its cries. I cannot abandon it or feel secure that it will take care of itself for a while as I try to make a better life for myself. It does not care about my quality of life. It simply needs to be fed.
For the next twenty years.
And at the end of this dependency, at the end of the obligation I have to this loan’s life and send it on its merry way into the world in which I cannot see nor understand where the money has gone or was going, I wonder about the quality of my life. I wonder if I’ll be able to sit comfortably in my now-empty nest of financial debt. I worry I will not know how to talk to other grownups who do not have these worries, who were not unfortunate enough to find themselves saddled to a life like mine. I wonder if I will even know what it will be like to not have that expense. I will be nearly fifty-years-old, the age of my mother. A life quite possibly two thirds over depending upon the havoc the stress of caring for such a burden for so long has left on my body. It doesn’t seem real to think I will be able to sustain this type of living, this type of prison, this kind of hell for the next twenty years. My life is not my own. It belongs to the child, the demon-seed of College who will never do anything for me except learn how to live on not enough.
What will I have missed out on because I couldn’t afford to do it with this cash-guzzling child around, suckling at every ounce of joy and dime earned? What greater life could I have had if I had aborted the idea of going to be with him, College, and instead tried something else? Nine years of my life, filled with happiness and experience cost twenty years of struggle. There is no hope in this situation, no procedure or pill to get rid of it; simply resignation and regret.